Riding the Shark: Vanquishing Fear in Selling, Part 3 of 4

How to Keep the Shark At Bay (photo by: Hermanus Backpackers) This is the third article in a four-part series on Fear in Selling.  In the first part, I talked about the importance of dealing with fear in sales. In the second part, I wrote  about the four types of fear.  In this part I’ll talk about solutions, and in Part 4 I’ll talk about Shark-proofing your market – how to replace fear permanently. 

Four-Step Shark Repellent

I’ve suggested there are Four Sharks of Fear:

1. Execution Fear. “I might mess up in doing this sale; I might not do it right.”
2. Competence Fear. “I might not know how to do this sale right; I may not even know I don’t know.”
3. Outcome Fear. “I might not get the deal at all – everything I wanted to happen won’t happen.”
4. Shame-based Fear. “They’re not going to like me or respect me anymore; and they’re probably right.”

Conveniently there are four forms of “shark repellent,” i.e. tools to vanquish those fears, at least for the time being.  Inconveniently, they don’t coincide one for one with the Four Sharks.  Conveniently, they generally come in a sequence: all you have to do is follow the four-step sequence.

Of course, all these steps depend on your recognizing your state of fear in the first place. If you can’t get outside of your fears long enough to notice that you’re afraid, then you need to start elsewhere. But assuming you can identify your fears, follow these steps.

Step 1. Write It, Read It, Talk It. Write down your fears in plain, simple language. With a pencil (not a keyboard). On paper (you remember paper, right?). Then read it out loud.  Sure, go ahead and close the door first.  Now the hard part: read it aloud to someone else. A friend, a co-worker, a relative.

Don’t kid yourself that reading that paragraph and “understanding” it does anything for you. It doesn’t. If we could “understand” our way out of fears, shrinks would be out of business. You actually need to do those steps. Write it down. Say it out loud. Say it to another person.

The reason is simple. Many fears dissolve in the light of day. And even if they don’t, it’s important to be able to state them clearly.

Again – don’t skip this step or think it’s enough to “understand” it.

Step 2. State the 95% Worse Case Scenario. Identify the worst thing that realistically could happen.  (Leave out the 5% doomsday scenarios). Write it down; write down the downside of that bad thing happening; and write down the probability of it happening.

For example: “I don’t know enough about this industry, and that might come out in the sales call, and then the client will see through me, I’ll be embarrassed and I won’t get the sale.”

What’s the 95% worst case? Probably losing the sale and being embarrassed. Now – seriously – how bad is that? How bad is it that you’re embarrassed and lose a sale? You can get over embarrassment easily enough, it doesn’t have to scar you. And sure you’d like the sale, but is your job at stake? Your house? Your mortgage?

It’s a good idea to write this down too. Our fears are almost always exaggerated versions of what is likely to happen. I’m not suggesting you ignore your fears – but you must right-size them. Get real. Your fears will most likely subside.

Step 3. Identify the Customer’s Fears.  Put aside your fears for a minute, and ask yourself – what is my customer afraid of? Being fooled? Being made a fool of? Making a bad decision? Appearing indecisive? Giving away competitive information?  Forgetting to ask critical questions? Wasting 20 minutes of their life on an unproductive sales call?

List your guess of the top three fears your customer has. Think about how these fears might show up in your customer? What words or questions or mannerisms might suggest those fears?

The purpose of this exercise is partly to get yourself out of your own skull, where all the fear-talk is happening. But it’s also substantive. If you can surmise what fears your customer has, you can then come up with ideas and solutions and perspectives to help your customer address those fears. And that would be excellent selling, by anyone’s book.

Step 4. Define Your Limits of Control
If your fears have made it through steps 1 through 3 and are still not vanquished, you’re ready for Step 4: get clear about what you can and cannot do in the situation, do what you can, and let the rest go.

For example: You may fear losing the sale to a competitor with a degree in chemical engineering (and you’re a philosophy major). There are some things you can do between now and the sales call, but getting a graduate degree in chemical engineering is probably not one of them. So let it go.

Instead, do what you have some control over. Identify the business dynamics, the value proposition, and possible sources of chemical expertise outside yourself should you need it for the job. (And don’t even think about leading the customer on to think that maybe you have a Chem degree when you don’t).

The hard part for most people is “letting the rest go.” But think about it. If you’re 46 years old and 5’9″, odds are good that you’ll go your grave without ever having played in the NBA. Get over it.

It’s easy when it comes to playing in the NBA – but it’s no different. If the job really does require someone with a degree in chemical engineering, then you deserve to lose the deal to someone who does. You only deserve to get what is within your power to deliver on. Save your emotional energy for the next customer, and leave a good impression with this one.

There’s no shame in losing a deal for which you were unqualified, or for which you couldn’t possibly get qualified in time.  In fact, in those rare cases where you do succeed in selling a deal without being qualified, you’ll cause yourself far more fears when you actually have to deliver on your false promise. Fix what you can, and let go the rest.

This four-step process should help in dealing with any particular fear that arises.  But how do you deal with fear itself? Can you reduce the incidence of fear itself?

Yes you can, and that’ll be the subject of the next and last blogpost.

3 replies
  1. Brent Diefenbacher
    Brent Diefenbacher says:

    love the metaphor, Charles. we’re facing some resistance/anxiety as we encourage sales reps to adopt new behaviour in our social selling platform. your tips may be useful as our users make the transition. ..looking forward to the next post!


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  1. […] with fear in sales. Here I’d like to talk about how to recognize and categorize fear. In Part 3 I’ll talk about solutions, and in Part 4 I’ll talk about Shark-proofing your market – […]

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